RANGOON — Some 100 protesters greeted a ship from Malaysia when it docked at Rangoon’s Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa on Thursday carrying aid bound for the troubled Maungdaw Township in northern Arakan State.
The ship was due to unload 550 tons of food and emergency supplies, with the rest of its 2,400 ton cargo bound for southeast Bangladesh.
The shipment to provide food and medicine for Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships ruffled government feathers last year after it reportedly received no communication regarding the plan from either the Malaysian Embassy or the aid organization.
President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy in December 2016 that the Burmese navy would warn the ship to return to Malaysia, or it would turn it back by force.
Malaysia has been an outspoken critic of Burma over security operations in northern Arakan state.
Several dozen Buddhist monks and nationalists—including nationalist monks from the Ma Ba Tha-aligned National Coalition Group—demonstrated outside the port terminal on Thursday.
They held signs rejecting the use of the name Rohingya—the name most Muslims in northern Arakan State use to describe themselves.
“We don’t mind that they want to support people who are suffering,” Buddhist monk U Thuseiktha told Reuters.
“But we don’t want political exploitation of this issue by calling them Rohingya. The name Rohingya doesn’t exist.”
Burma officials have also accused Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of tapping into the Rohingya cause “to promote a certain political agenda.”
The Muslim groups and aid organizations behind the shipment had hoped to deliver the supplies directly to Rohingya people in Arakan State, but were instead forced to hand the goods over to the Burma government in Rangoon.
Burma has also insisted that the aid is distributed equally between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State.
Abd. Aziz Sheikh Fadzir, a lawmaker from Najib’s ruling party who attended the docking, said the organizations behind the shipment had been delivering aid to other crisis points around Asia and the Pacific.
Any suggestion of political expediency was “speculation,” he said.
Najib has called Burma’s military operation “genocide” and saw off the shipment when it left Malaysia last Friday.
Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Malaysia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, who was also at the port, praised Burma for agreeing to accept the delivery, saying it built confidence between the international community and Burma.
Win Myat Aye, Burma’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, said Arakan was “the second-poorest state in Burma, is a natural disaster-prone area by geographical location, and it is compounded by communal conflicts unfortunately.”
Burma has been criticized for hampering the work of agencies including the UN World Food Program trying to feed people in an area where malnutrition rates were high before the conflict .
The government had been delivering aid to affected people in northern Arakan “without discrimination,” Win Myat Aye said, adding Burma would “arrange the distribution of this aid to the communities in the affected areas at the soonest possible time.”